Called – Short Story
By Jen Armstrong
Loud shrills blared as the lights flashed on and off. In a moment of panic, she fell from the safety of her warm bed into the cold floor of her room with such force she would carry a bruise just above her eye for the next day or two. The unpadded carpet jarred her into reality. She was safe.
Over the loud speakers, she heard, “Come on, Jess. Let’s ride!” The bright red fire engine was rolling out of the building just as she leaped into the cab and slammed the door behind her.
“Engine 6, en route.”
They were off again. It was the twelfth call of this shift and Jess was exhausted. She had fought nearly an hour to finally fall asleep. It was a battle she lost daily but the busy shifts at work made it all the more difficult to deal with. Thoughts of calls plagued her mind. She remembered sounds of the little girl gasping for her last breath just hours before. The car wreck had also taken the life of this little girls mother and older brother. Jess was devastated but it wasn’t the first time she’d faced this nightmare. She’d seen this kind of thing dozens of times in her few years on the engine. It was the nature of the job.
Jess was a natural at hiding any real emotion. She could handle the hardest of situations. Grown men would walk away sobbing and Jess carried a face of stone. There was a wall emotions just couldn’t cross, not that anyone else could see anyway.
What they didn’t know was the fear she felt each night as darkness settled in. Darkness terrified her. Not in the sense of adrenaline rushing as she ran into a burning building darkness but the eerily quiet, still of the night kind of darkness. That was the kind she couldn’t escape from.
After the call, they returned to the station for yet another attempt at a few moments of sleep. Jess knew what was coming. Even though her body was filled with exhaustion, anxiety took over. She crawled onto her bed, tucked the blankets tight around her and stared out into the darkness. Every little sound sent shivers up her spine. She prayed for God to keep her safe.
Finally drifting off to sleep, visions of that familiar silhouette soon plagued her dreams. Silent screams and cries filled her mind. Fear overtook her and just as she had done many times before, she raised up, sweat beading off her forehead, trembling in terror, trying to grasp at anything that could rescue her from another nightmare.
The only place she found comfort was in the Bible her grandpa had given her a couple years before his death. He had underlined a few verses in it and added a couple notes here and there. The verse Jess kept coming back to was John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” She wanted that so badly; a life, to feel like she was really living.
She turned the lamp on and read that verse over and over until morning came. Mornings were like a fresh start for her. With the rise of the sun, she could take on the world. The exhaustion seemed to fade the brighter her day got.
Jess spent her days off pouring herself into anything she could to stay busy. Busyness kept her occupied and didn’t allow room for invasions of years passed. She put all her time and energy into serving at the local women’s shelter. She was great with the kids that passed through there, able to connect with them on a level most couldn’t. Of course when she’d tell them stories about riding the fire engine, they all fell in love with her. She was a great listener, soaking in every story that came through that little house, stories of trials, loss, sadness and some of hope and joy. Every single woman that Jess encountered had a story and she was determined to give them a voice. She encouraged them to share even though her own stubbornness wouldn’t allow for the same of herself.
After the long shift she’d just had, Jess was at a breaking point. Her heart was filled with so much love, joy and hope but at the same time, she continued to suffer in the silence of her own world of terror. She walked into the counseling office at the shelter, shut the door behind her and plopped down in the chair in front of Rita. She had talked with Rita, the shelter’s full time counselor, dozens of times after a difficult shift or unpleasant call. It wasn’t unusual for her to replay those situations in an attempt to process them but this time was different. Rita could see the anguish in Jess’s face. She knew there was something more.
Jess sank back into the chair. She pulled her legs up in front of her, wrapping her arms around them tightly. Tears began to pour down her face. With every last bit of energy she had lef, she cried out, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this alone.” She poured out to Rita stories of the years she lived through sexual and physical abuse, suicide attempts, cutting, depression, the shame she carried and more. She let it all out right there in that room. In that moment, she handed it to God. She needed a purpose, something more than the red engine and nights filled with fear. She needed to feel alive again. She could save lives day in and day out but all the while, she couldn’t save her own.
In that moment, she broke free from the chains that had bound her for so many years. She finally escaped from the darkness that had so often consumed her world. She found a glimmer of hope, a slight hint of peace. She handed all the baggage she was carrying over to God. She knew then she’d been called. All these years she thought her purpose in life was to save others, to put herself and her own needs aside in order to rescue others. In a sense, she was right but she wasn’t ever meant to put her own needs aside. Jess had learned she needed the world just as much as the world needed her.
Determined, she kept fighting her battles, overcoming the nightmares and fears. Before long, she realized there was more to her calling. She needed to be a voice for the silent ones. She needed to be a light in the darkness of others. Jess had a job to do, to save herself and in doing so, she could be the hero that others needed. Even though it wouldn’t be easy, she knew speaking up, speaking out, sharing her story, was what she was called to do and this was a call she couldn’t wait to respond to!